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A negative coronavirus test isn’t enough, health experts say

Posted November 17, 2020 5:03 p.m. EST

Health experts are warning that just because you test negative for coronavirus before traveling for the holidays, doesn’t mean you don’t have the virus.

Dr. Jessica Dixon at WakeMed Hospital said it can take days before a new infection shows up on a coronavirus test.

That means you could take a test today and get a negative result in three days, but there is still a chance you may have been infected during those three days waiting.

Dixon said there’s no way to be 100% sure.

Raleigh resident Bill Wiley is hosting Thanksgiving dinner this year. Since it’s too late to quarantine, he’s asked everyone to get tested for the virus.

“We’re having to adjust, right? Can’t be as free and casual as we would [normally] be,” said Wiley. “We have been social distancing and mask wearing and being safe. Some [of our] family are going to be tested for COVID and if they’re clear — come over and have Thanksgiving with us.”

However, Dixon said a negative test does not mean you don’t have coronavirus.

“That’s only going to tell you if you have COVID in your body and enough of it to be detectable with the test that you were using at the moment when you were,” she explained.

If you plan on traveling, Dixon recommended taking a test three or four days before traveling and quarantining until that day, but she added that even then there’s still a risk.

“You can be asymptomatic and never develop symptoms, or you could be pre-symptomatic and develop symptoms later today, tomorrow, the next day,” Dixon said.

While it’s not ideal, Dixon said a virtual Thanksgiving dinner is the safest option.

“We all want to see our families, our friends, right now, but we also like for them to be here for us to see next year at this time,” she said.

Finally, Dixon recommended people wait five days after they return from their holiday destination to get tested. She said people don’t want to get tested too early because they may not have enough of the virus in the body to be detectable.

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